Smell is especially important when it comes to these Dunks
August 22, 2019 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Zac leans into the pair of sneakers in his hands and takes a great big whiff—the sort of noisy inhale typically reserved for fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies and the heads of newborn babies. Zac is a sneaker authenticator at Stadium Goods [... and they] are entrusting Zac’s nostrils to safeguard their investment. Today, he is eagerly hoovering the vapors from a pair of Nike x Supreme SB Dunks from 2002 that have been on a long and telling voyage—one that says a lot about the booming, and still-growing, sneaker resale industry. How a Single Pair of Sneakers Explains the Booming Billion-Dollar Sneaker Resale Industry -- Inside the wild, shockingly lucrative world of sneaker reselling. (Cam Wolf for GQ)

If you're wondering how reselling sneakers came to be a billion dollar industry, Mentalfloss has a brief history of sneaker collecting for the novice 'heads.
posted by filthy light thief (30 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do these shoes smell like tulips to you? I swear I smell tulips somewhere.
posted by echo target at 10:33 AM on August 22, 2019 [19 favorites]

Beanie sneakers? Sneaker babies?
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:47 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

This article induced a whole new level of anxiety for me. Why am I always so behind on what's going on? Everyone really is hanging out without me!!!???
posted by lextex at 11:14 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's gotta be the shoes.
posted by meinvt at 11:15 AM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

Which is to say - I don't think this is new so much as a newly standardized outlet for a subculture which has existed for a very long time. When we were promised that new job types would be created as old ones got outdated, this is what everyone meant. I'm happy for Zac that he has a job he really enjoys and appreciates.
posted by meinvt at 11:18 AM on August 22, 2019 [12 favorites]

Meinvt - such a beautiful point.
posted by lextex at 11:27 AM on August 22, 2019

I would be interested to see a macro investigation of collecting, in regards to global wealth and wealth distribution. Tulips and beanie babies were singular markets, but I expect that sneakers are just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of niche markets where limited goods are saved and re-sold at a range of prices.

For example Legos, particularly Star Wars Legos, are seen by some as a viable investment. How to Invest in Legos and Make a Bazillion Dollars -- Please note: You will not make a bazillion dollars. But read on to learn about the weird market for Legos and how it’s a model for lots of other markets. (Wealth Simple)
Because Legos have been beloved for years, and now that the adults who grew up on them have more disposable income to invest, a secondary market has emerged, with pristine sets increasing 12% each year since 2000. It’s the nostalgia economy.
The article actually cites the sneaker market as another niche market for resellers. But if a company makes something that is valued at all, and makes a limited run of the item (compared to the demand), that good will increase in price. I have a few cases of "limited edition" soda that I keep meaning to sell of as single cans, because some people on eBay are selling these flavors that aren't offered any more at $10-15 per can, depending on the age and brand, probably more for ones that haven't been made for a while. Just like Kool-Aid packets, discussed previously.

My interest in the OP was for the detail of the work in evaluating sneakers. Zac may enjoy his job, but it also sounds like a grind --
Zac can tell if a shoe is fake in less than 30 seconds. Speed is important, because roughly 600 shoes a day come before him and his small team of authenticators. Zac says that at one point, before the team expanded to around a half-dozen, he was authenticating around 200 pairs daily.
That's a pretty heavy workload, and a quick turn-around for authentication, which makes me think that quality bootlegs could be getting by authenticators. It's easy to notice the shady fakes, but I wonder if anyone is investing in making quality frauds, to get into this billion dollar industry from a different angle.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:27 AM on August 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

The sneakerhead scene is absolutely buckwild. I remember talking about it with a colleague before (right around the time some iteration of yeezys got announced) because once he started going to a fancy gym, he suddenly got immersed in tech bro sneakerhead culture and ended up getting interested in a bit of it himself. Our small talk would occasionally be peppered with tales of his shopping woes, usually b/c resellers kept buying out stores' inventory for various hotly anticipated kicks, and it's not like he really wanted to get them but he saw them mentioned on hypebeast or some other fashion blog and he thought they looked neat, but not marked-up-by-hundreds-of-dollars neat.

Back to the actual article though, I like reading in general about experts at spotting fakes/authenticating genuine articles of whatever. Authenticating hundreds of pairs of shoes daily does sound like a grind, but yeah, the details of how Zac goes about it are pretty interesting. I'm on the part of the article where it discusses how Zac's probably smelled a million shoes thus far and I'm feeling astounded by that. Have I ever smelled a million of anything? Has the sum total of all the things I've intentionally smelled in my life even come close to a million?
posted by rather be jorting at 11:35 AM on August 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

Q: What are we going to do when the robots take all our jobs?
A: "Zac is a sneaker authenticator..."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:40 AM on August 22, 2019 [12 favorites]

I have a friend who sells these kind of sneakers at a high end boutique in a big east coast city, and I'm not sure when it happened but at some point his stories just sort of flip-flopped from 'satirical tales from another reality' to 'yes, of course this is how it is now.'

CTL+F "gonna like...get it"
0 hits

try harder mefi

posted by snuffleupagus at 12:03 PM on August 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

I want to know about the guy that comes in a buys the most expensive shoes in the store, walks out in them and tosses the box. Like hardcore sneakerheads have a finite pool of cash amongst them but it's guys like that who are pumping in the money that inflates the bubble. Who are these people that are both total casuals (dude doesn't even know what he wants to buy) yet willing to drop "mad skrilla" (as the kids say)?
posted by GuyZero at 12:10 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do think the sneaker thing is a little different than beanie babies or tulips though, because the whole thing is sort of done tongue-in-cheek, with an explicit awareness that market economic principles are central to the phenomenon.

Maybe I’m projecting. I’m in the middle of a microeconomics class and I’m the first to admit that my brain does not comprehend money as a model for people’s motivations. But our professor is this really funny cynical New Yorker who has a teenage son who’s really into sneaker culture and the prof uses stories about his son’s buying and selling to illustrate points about markets all the time and that’s one thing that clicks with me. Nothing in any market is about an item’s intrinsic utility, or how much it cost to produce, or even about how much the item sold for in the past (even just *minutes* in the past). It’s all about how much someone is willing to pay for something in the future. There’s a reason why half the companies and websites involved with this have the word “hype” in them. All the collaborations and branding are just ways to play with the concepts of quantity and demand, and it’s taken to an explicit meta-level when Supreme does things like releasing the Supreme Brick™️ which is currently selling for $1000 on eBay.

In the end, it’s really not all that different than collecting baseball cards or rare coins, just that it’s kind of hilarious that it’s shoes, and that if you’re kind of an idiot you can signal your disregard for thousands of dollars of disposable income by wearing them in public. Like people do already with Italian loafers or Swiss watches.

The last day of economics class was Friday. I have a friend with a laser saw and a pile of bricks in the yard and I brought the professor his very own non-authenticated Supreme Brick™️. I’d hold off on getting one on eBay, there’s no way to verify it with a sniff test.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:30 PM on August 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

When I was a kid, I would just buy the weirdest looking "name" sneakers I could find, for 50-70% off. Sneakerhead culture has ruined my entire sneaker buying strategy. There's something weirdly "language of flowers" about the sneaker scene, if you're not actually into the scene. What you wear always said a little something about you, but now there's a niche audience for which it will say volumes. It's weird! For the past few years, I've just been alternating between colorful basic stuff (Puma, New Balance) and pretty sneakers that inevitably feel horrible (Onitsuka, Lotto Legenda).
posted by grandiloquiet at 12:45 PM on August 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

GuyZero: Who are these people that are both total casuals (dude doesn't even know what he wants to buy) yet willing to drop "mad skrilla" (as the kids say)?

Bro-vesters? Martin Shkreli turned to Reddit to ask which Magic: The Gathering cards to buy, as an investor (Fortune, 2016), before he got a seven year jail sentence and was fined $7.4 million for two counts of securities fraud.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:52 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

'God is not Mox'd.'
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:59 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

There's plenty of new-money tech bros of varying job descriptions who are just interested in conspicuous consumption without an eye for further flipping - they want something that signals they have the money to drop, especially if they're going to be seen by other tech bros at the gym every day/week. Gotta accentuate those gains w/ a rotation of kicks for the other guys to see, is what I gather. Knowing much about the sneakers isn't as important (other than to know what's "worth" wearing), nor is keeping them in pristine condition - after all, they're wearing them out and about. It's a much different mentality than, for example, B.J.'s:
A little less than a month after listing his Dunks, B.J. gets the news: his sneakers have found a home. Someone has pulled the trigger for the whole $3,000. (The buyer didn’t respond to requests for comment.) After Stadium Goods takes its 20 percent cut, subtracting the $1,200 he initially paid, B.J. ends up clearing close to $1,500.

The shoes will be spirited out of Stadium Goods’ store and into their new home within two business days. There, they might sit on a shelf like a trophy. They might be (gasp!) worn outside. Or they might be flipped yet again, to a new highest bidder, their new owner convinced there’s still a higher margin to be made. If that seller uses Stadium Goods for their sale, that means another cool 20 percent for the company.

For his part, B.J. considers the process a learning experience, not a pure victory: “The fact that it sold within a month told me, ‘Okay, next time I can price it a little higher.’”

I ask him what he’ll do with the money. His answer will surely be music to McPheters’ ears. “It will probably go back into buying more shoes,” B.J. says. “And seeing how else I can make another $1,500 bucks.”
posted by rather be jorting at 2:14 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Waaaaaaaaaaiiiiitaminute... The guy running this company that speculates on gym shoes is named... McPheter? Okay, now I know we're living in a simulation.
posted by Slothrop at 2:37 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Am I the only one that keeps doing the math and thinking, "BJ didn't make almost $1500, he made $1200." I have no idea why this is bothering me so much, it's just lazy writing.

Really cool post, though, thanks!
posted by smb0626 at 3:03 PM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Just like Kool-Aid packets, discussed previously.

You laugh, but have you ever had Pink Swimmingo?
posted by panama joe at 3:40 PM on August 22, 2019

Every so often in a fit of masochism I watch the Antiques Roadshow reappraisal/ update shows and it's depressing how many items from eg, ten years ago, have either stayed the same or decreased in value. I remember reading when flat panel tvs became mass market affordable, that a local auction house was practically giving away antique French armoires because people weren't buying them to house their massive CRTs anymore. It's really just a crapshoot.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:27 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

it's depressing how many items from eg, ten years ago, have either stayed the same or decreased in value.

My dad was buying Playboy magazines back when I was a kid and I remember him saying "these will pay for your college education" but the market for that stuff really pooped the bed and now they're mostly worthless. Mom had me go into their storage to start throwing them out and some of the price tags on the bags tell me he paid a LOT more in the 70's than they're selling on eBay right now. But if he had kept that pair of waffle trainers in a safety deposit box instead of running marathons in them, we'd be rich? That's wild.

I try not to buy something I'm never going to use but the compulsion to keep stuff on ice is hard to break. I am currently resisting the urge to buy up a bunch of HUF sneakers and just wait, because I know I'll never get them again.
posted by monkeymike at 8:49 PM on August 22, 2019

This stuff always goes in cycles. I read recently that Elvis memorabilia has completely plummeted in value. It turns out this sort of nostalgia collection is only worth money to a very small subset of people who tend to be of the same generation. Once they all stop collecting and start dying, it floods the market and there's no demand.

As others have said, the most annoying part of the sneakerhead bubble is that it's really hard to get interesting sneakers which don't cost outrageous amounts.
posted by leo_r at 12:38 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've grown/collected South African succulent plants (Haworthia and Gasteria) for about a decade now and the market dynamics are kind of fascinating. People (including me) really want what is rare and hard to get which means newly discovered species, slow growing or difficult plants. When I started collecting they had great value among the relatively tiny grower/collector community. People were paying hundreds of dollars for tiny young plants. Lots of money was made by some collectors but it took a lot time for your investments to mature (basically you had to get and grow the plants for a while so they would offset or produce seed).

Then along came continental Asian interest thanks to Facebook, Pinterest, Ebay and the market went insane with a flood of new collectors and as a result of the increased demand prices shot through the roof. Japanese hybrid plants - some of the best in the world - were getting huge prices and there was even a rash of shocking greenhouse breakin smash and grab thefts from serious hobbyist collectors/hybridizers. Once demand had skyrocketed the market responded with incredible speed with technological innovation (economists would predict this - hobbyist growers not so much!). Massive greenhouse grow operations, tissue culturing (growing new plants from tiny pieces placed in agar growth medium in carefully controlled sterile conditions), more aggressive cloning operations (leaf cutting and coring) and the chemical induction of growth oddities (variegation, cristation, leaf mutations and such) made formerly extremely rare plants that cost a couple of hundred dollars come down in price to tens of dollars. There is even fraud where some plants are treated with hormones (You can slow growth and produce fat looking clones that lose their shape once sold on and the hormone treatment stops; stubby Sansevieria boncel clones being the prime example).

The bottom hasn't quite fallen out of the market but I haven't really seen very many hundred dollar or more plants in the past year.

The community response is kind of interesting. There is a kind of PR backlash against the grow op and tissue culture growers. Older collectors grumble about it and speculate about quality differences between tissue culture grown plants and the more 'natural' way of growing plants kind of like people do with GMO foods. It's a divide like the authentic / fake sneakers except you really can't tell the difference between the two because is there no "sniff test" you can use.

Personally, I am just happy that I get the chance to have some of the more interesting and beautiful plants in my collection. But then as a runner I also always buy the previous year's models of running shoes, prefer the low end of a shoe manufacturer's line and completely ignore the colorways because I have no interest in social signalling via my running footwear. Mostly because I am a happily married 50+ year old guy who no longer gives a fuck what other people think and I'd prefer to use my money to buy myself freedom, pleasure or health rather than some fleeting status. Also, I don't have enough money to be able to purchase a noticeable change in status.

Consumer demand and collecting is weird and psychologically fascinating.
posted by srboisvert at 1:52 AM on August 23, 2019 [10 favorites]

When you start talking about multiple thousands of dollars for sneakers it starts to get a bit crazy to me. For that kind of money you can get a pair of bespoke cordovan shoes that will fit perfectly and literally last the rest of your life even if you wear them multiple times a week.
posted by slkinsey at 4:05 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Weirdly enough, it was actually a relief to read that most of the shoes in question had never been worn. Zac's job sounded absolutely horrifying if it involved well-worn shoes.

I have a mild obsession with some expensive shoes. But, fortunately none of the weird combat and hiking boots I love are ever limited edition with artificial scarcity. But I did take a look at some of the sneakers in question. That Squidward special edition Nikes were enough to make me understand how some could fall for this particular shoe obsession. But how depressing to find shoes like that in absolutely great colors, and then feel like they could never wear them for reasons.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 4:27 AM on August 23, 2019

There are a lot of these collectible markets. The popular ones, the ones with the money like fine art, can be sussed out by the prevalence and quality of the fakes.

I’m not so knowledgeable about shoes but high end guitars are a similar market. People who don’t play buy them in order to signal wealth, cool, whatever, and possibly as an investment. Vintage Les Pauls, Broadcasters, and others are going for many thousands; sometimes those previously owned by musicians like George Harrison, Jimmy Page, or Roger Waters sell for >$100,000. The original manufacturers are even going in with new ‘reissues’, still priced ridiculously. But some of the fakes are fantastic. I just picked up a Chibson Les Paul copy that has a better finish and plays much better than my old 68 - all for about $200. Slapped in some P90s and it’s a fantastic beater that wouldn’t break my heart if it was stolen at a gig.
posted by sudogeek at 6:34 AM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hm, I think the better analogy would be fine art rather than beanie babies. These are real works of craftsmanship and design. I know next to zero about sneakers, but even I can see that this is one of the most innovative and interesting areas of fashion. Like art, there is the duel pressure of people who appreciate them for their inherent craft and artistic/cultural meaning, people who trade them as market assets, and people who straight up buy them as status symbols because they recognize those two other meanings. Seems like there is the same kind of antagonism and tension between those different sets of meanings. Which... wasn't the case with beanie babies. They were collectable only: no one was really talking about them as innovative art forms.
posted by EllaEm at 6:54 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

For me my issue is it seems bonkers to think the odour profile of a given counterfeit shoe's outgassing is going to be any different from the real deal – aren't they often made in the same factory?

Plus, that's gotta be carcinogenic at some level ;p
posted by pmv at 2:47 PM on August 23, 2019

I'm none too familiar with proper shoe glue smells myself, but apparently there is a distinct odor profile:

Smell is especially important when it comes to these Dunks, a shoe of the hypest order that, unlike the latest Jordan retro or Yeezy release, doesn’t regularly come through Stadium Goods. Zac doesn’t so much look for a specific scent as he does try and sniff out the noxious signs of a fraud: “This fume-y, fake glue smell,” he explains. Real shoes, he says, have a singular aroma—there is New Shoe smell the same way there is New Car smell. It’s syrupy and medicinal—a cure-all, maybe, for bad outfits.
posted by rather be jorting at 2:52 PM on August 23, 2019

(Can't imagine smelling a million glues is good for you, though)
posted by rather be jorting at 2:52 PM on August 23, 2019

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